Saklad: No Place Unlike Home
One woman’s experiences at Dartmouth and abroad.
Hovering over our packs slung on the bus station bench, I count the cars as they pass by and wait for one of them to slow down. My traveling companion, Noah, and I rifle for snacks in my 45-liter Osprey, which holds all of my possessions for the next two months. These are the first stages of our survival plan. If our host doesn’t show, we will camp out at the bus stop until a car heading in the right direction comes by the next morning and then we’ll catch a train to a major city. Fifteen minutes pass, then 20.
It started with a website called WorkAway, a forum where one can get in touch with thousands of hosts around the world who offer room and board in exchange for work. After countless messages sent to potential hosts, we finally receive an acceptance from Simone and Clinton Davies, the owners of a quaint bed and breakfast and bar in Touzac, France about five hours southeast of Paris.
“Get in, I’ll help you with your stuff,” calls a British voice from the passenger-side window of a car parked along the road. Simone at last. She drives us to our lodgings for the next two weeks and along the way asks the usual questions — “Where are you from?” “What do you study?” “How did you get here?” I neglected to tell her that I wanted an escape — an escape from seeing the images on my computer screen and fake smiles at Dartmouth. I wanted an escape for another reason too: Dartmouth is not a safe place for women.
There is an unspoken work-hard, play-hard mentality on campus. Students spend their weeknights whiling away in the library and they party extra hard on the weekends. This, paired with the isolation of Dartmouth’s campus, makes Greek life — and in particular, fraternity parties — an attractive option for many students’ weekend plans. As at most colleges with Greek life, fraternities dominate sororities in the social scene. As such, many students spend their weekends drinking to excess in fraternity basements.
This brings me to the first reality I wanted to escape: lots of drunk young men and women in spaces in which people often look for a hookup. The second reality I wanted to escape comes from the alcohol and class hierarchy, which creates a toxic stew of hyper-masculinity within fraternities. These men often feel entitled to women, ignorant of the harms they inflict by gawking, touching and otherwise assaulting them. While Dartmouth may have some programs such as the campus counseling center and WISE that offer support to victims, most victims’ experiences remain unheard by the college. In the barest terms, Dartmouth is not an institution that supports women. I am tired of that, too. So, I leapt into a world where I hoped to find something different from what I had known before.
At the end of my first week, a group of Brits and Scots celebrate a birthday at the Davies’ club. All night, I carry courses to the dining room in slow procession. Simone and Clinton gather me and Noah to tell us that we’ve done a “delightful job.” As the guests begin to filter out, they invite us for a drink. “I bet half the men in here went home and f—ed their wives after looking at you,” Clinton says in front of six other people, while winking at another man. I don’t know where to look, how to shape my face. He echoes the words girls hear from puberty and sometimes much younger. These kinds of words trick us into dressing up and make us regret it when we do. Frat boys whisper them into our ears in basements where they cannot even see our faces. I tried to escape these words by leaving Dartmouth, and I realize now they will follow me wherever I go.
Clinton overstepped himself, but he also taught me that I will face harassment everywhere, not just at Dartmouth. I had similar experiences to mine in Touzac throughout my time traveling Europe. Men offered me little gifts or called me beautiful and became angry when I turned them away. It feels so wrong to feel so lucky nothing worse happened to me. Countless women are assaulted or even killed while traveling abroad. People, mainly men, disrespect and harm women by taking their bodies for granted. But it does not have to be that way, and it should not be.
In order for this to change, we will need, first and foremost, an upwelling of empathy for other humans. That means considering the way our words and our actions affect others. We cannot continue to tolerate men who disrespect women, who endanger our sense of safety and sometimes violate our bodies. The first step to making the world a place where women can feel equal and safe is acknowledging harmful language and actions as well as starting conversations about difficult topics like sexual harassment and assault. We cannot continue to skirt this topic. The movement will come slow and sometimes not at all, but we must move towards somewhere new.